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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Fostering Children's Connection to Nature Through Authentic Situations: The Case of Saving Salamanders at School

Barthel, Stephan; Belton, Sophie; Raymond, Christopher M.; Giusti, Matteo


The aim of this paper is to explore how children learn to form new relationships with nature. It draws on a longitudinal case study of children participating in a stewardship project involving the conservation of salamanders during the school day in Stockholm, Sweden. The qualitative method includes two waves of data collection: when a group of 10-year-old children participated in the project (2015) and 2 years after they participated (2017). We conducted 49 interviews with children as well as using participant observations and questionnaires. We found indications that children developed sympathy for salamanders and increased concern and care for nature, and that such relationships persisted 2 years after participation. Our rich qualitative data suggest that whole situations of sufficient unpredictability triggering free exploration of the area, direct sensory contact and significant experiences of interacting with a species were important for children's development of affective relationships with the salamander species and with nature in an open-ended sense. Saving the lives of trapped animals enabled direct sensory interaction, feedback, increased understanding, and development of new skills for dynamically exploring further ways of saving species in an interactive process experienced as deeply meaningful, enjoyable and connecting. The behavioral setting instilled a sense of pride and commitment, and the high degree of responsibility given to the children while exploring the habitat during authentic situations enriched children's enjoyment. The study has implications for the design of education programs that aim to connect children with nature and for a child-sensitive urban policy that supports authentic nature situations in close spatial proximity to preschools and schools.


nature experience; affordances; affective relationships with nature; urban; situated learning; stewardship; qualitative methods; longitudinal approach

Published in

Frontiers in Psychology
2018, Volume: 9, article number: 928

    Associated SLU-program

    Human-Animal Interactions
    Nature experiences and health

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG4 Quality education
    SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Applied Psychology

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)